Living With Hope

Hi friends!

It’s ironic that I talked about my “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” mantra in my sermon this morning because I forgot to put my phone on “do not disturb” for worship and I GOT A PHONE CALL THAT INTERRUPTED THE LIVESTREAM during my sermon.

It’s fine.

I’m fine.

Everything is fine.

So worship does get interrupted for a few seconds during my sermon, but not for long!  Just don’t think it’s your device or connection – all me.

Anyway, I hope you all are well!  It’s funny how, even during covid, things are busy at church right now!  It’s nice to put stuff on the calendar, though.  We’re celebrating the small victories and embracing what we are able to do.

Here is my sermon, as well as the video of this morning’s worship!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 20, 2020

Philippians 1:21-30

Living With Hope

This week was a big one for our students, parents, teachers and administrators.  For most of them, it marked the official start of school.  After spending the entire summer trying to do the impossible – putting pieces of different puzzles together to create one picture – both physical and virtual doors opened and learning began.

I watched this process unfold largely as an outsider.  I do not have school-aged children and therefore, ultimately, the specific plans of our district did not necessarily affect me.  However, on Friday morning, for posterity sake, I did take “First Day of School” photos.  I put my 5-month-old in a bow, bribed my 3-year-old with Swedish Fish (at 7:30 in the morning) and put them in front of a sign that read:

FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
DIGHTON-REHOBOTH
2020-2021

IT’S FINE
I’M FINE
EVERYTHING
IS FINE

Like so many others, this expression – “It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine.” – has become my mantra this year.  It has been my mantra for dealing with the more frivolous things – like when I cut my own hair or put in an online grocery pickup order for pancake syrup and the shopper substituted it for a bottle of syrup made out of rice.  It has been my mantra for dealing with work-related conundrums – like when I yammered on for ten minutes last week before worship without turning on my microphone or wrote a policy for baptisms during covid which states that the parents will pour water over their children instead of me.  It has also been my mantra for dealing with the bigger things – like having a baby during the first wave covid surge in New England.  This mantra has been tested at times – like last week when I heard word that the senior center was burning down and certainly on Friday evening when the news broke that Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away.

It’s fine.  I’m fine.  Everything is fine.  This mantra reminds me that 1. it is okay if every now and then I have to adjust my expectations and 2. big picture, it is going to be okay, even if it is really hard right now.  This mantra has, at times over the past seven months, been a battle cry; a declaration of my refusal to let this pandemic beat me.  It has been a constant affirmation (and there is my star word from last year) that my faith and my faith alone will carry me through the hard times we are experiencing right now; that if I continue to chart the course – to lean into my faith and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ – that I will journey safely to the other side of these uncharted waters.

In many ways, this is very similar to what Paul is saying in this morning’s scripture reading from his letter to the Philippians.

Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia.  According to Acts of the Apostles, Paul had traveled to Philippi and founded a church.  The members of this church were predominantly gentile; and Paul loved them very much.  The tone of this letter shows that Paul regarded the Philippians with great affection and deep longing; he had a lot of hope for this church that he had planted.

I know hope is something that a lot of us are struggling with right now, so it is important to point out that hope was not necessarily something that came easy for Paul at the time of writing this letter; in fact, he wrote it from prison.  The Philippians, knowing Paul was in prison, sent a member of their church, a man named Epaphroditus, to bring him gifts.  Epaphroditus became ill when he arrived and, once he recovered, Paul decided Epaphroditus should go back to Philippi.  Paul sent him back with this letter.

One of the main focuses of this letter is that we need to distinguish the things that truly matter from the things that don’t.  I could see where, being in prison, Paul would have the opportunity to reflect on this.  The word “joy” appears five times in this letter and the verbs “rejoice” and “be glad” appear 11 times.  Despite the fact that Paul was living through a hard and arduous season in his own life, he was refusing to let that win; he was determined to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, to live in Christ and, as he says in this morning’s scripture, live “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

Again, I think joy is something that a lot of us are struggling with right now.  And so it is, again, important to think about the fact that Paul’s focus on joy comes from a place of deep pain and sorrow.

And yet he continued to live with hope.

This particular passage has some darker undertones.  He starts off by saying, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”  The expression, “living is Christ” is one that does not have a great translation into English, but essentially what Paul is saying is that he does not want to live his life apart from his obligations to Christ.  When he says, “dying is gain” he is insinuating that death might be a better option – that his desire to be with Christ is more than his desire to be in the flesh.

I do think we have to be really careful with this passage, because there is this underlying insinuation of suicidal notions with the statement that Paul would rather be dead and with Christ than alive.  But for me the more important part is the shift where Paul talks about it being more necessary for him to remain in the flesh.  And then he talks about why.  And then he talks about how.

The thing is, Paul is experiencing what, seven months ago, I would have called an unimaginable suffering that most of us would never comprehend in our lifetime.  But this year has just kind of beaten us up in a way that no one ever saw coming.  And so Paul’s words – his suffering – are so much more real to me now.

I would imagine they are to a lot of you who are watching this morning, as well.

But this is not where it ends.  Because as real as Paul’s suffering is to me right now – this makes his faith and his desire to stand in the flesh and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ all the more convicting, as well.

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday, we not only lost a Supreme Court Justice, but we also lost a champion of equality and an inspiration to so many who believe that a better world is possible.  She once said, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”  These words are so poignant at this moment in our history.  Because we do have to fight for the things we care about; in this moment of chaos in our history, they do not necessarily come easily.

And so we fight.  We fight for hope.  We fight for the Gospel; for the truth that love will always win and that, even in the darkest of moments, light will shine.  We fight for justice to prevail – and for the least of these to be cared for.  We fight for our church to not only survive this pandemic, but to thrive in the midst of it and to do what God is calling us to do in this moment.  We fight to find ways for our community – our village – to give back and to care for one another.  We fight to keep our faith – and to trust that God will lead us safely to the other side of this pandemic.

And we fight in a way that will lead others to join us.  We fight in a way that is compelling and hospitable and inspiring.  We fight in a way that demonstrates a deep longing and affection for others, like Paul so clearly felt about the Philippians.  We fight in a way that will change people’s lives, that will bring about a better world.

Paul says twe have to live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ; in a manner worthy of the sacrifice that Christ made, of the grace and forgiveness and reconciliation bestowed upon us.  Paul says that this matters; that our lives in the flesh matter and that they have meaning and they give people the kind of hope they need to believe in.

Now more than ever, the way we live our lives matters.  We cannot afford to be silent or complacent.  There is too much at stake.  Our world is in chaos and people are starting to lose hope.

And the thing is – we have hope.  At its core, Christianity is about hope.  At its core, Christianity is about the fact that there is always hope, even when, from the outside, it looks like death, itself, has won.

And so right now we have to show people what it means to believe in this kind hope; this death-defying, life-inspiring hope. Right now, we have to not only proclaim our faith in Christ, but also show people what, exactly, it means.  We have to live our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel, showing people that hope is real and it is alive and it is worth holding onto.  We cannot give up – or give in.

And is this fun or easy to amidst a global pandemic and a year that has already taken away so much from us?  Heck no.  But Paul never thought it was going to be easy; in fact, for Paul it was really, really hard.

But he believed it was possible.  And that’s the really cool part.  When faced with imprisonment and the possibility of death, himself, Paul still had hope and he still thought the way he lived his life mattered.

So let us go live our lives worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, holding onto a hope that will transform our minds, our hearts and our lives.

And may we do so in a way that will lead others to join us.

And then may we all proclaim this hope that will change the world.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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How We Are Responding

Hi friends!

We are still in Romans, which has been such a gift for us in this stage of covid life.  We shared communion today and are getting ready for our first Drive-Thru Communion (I will let you know how it works!).  It feels good to be doing and planning right now – while I do believe that we will get to the other side of this, it’s nice to find ways to do church in the meantime.

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 6, 2020

Romans 13:8-14

How We Are Responding

A few months ago was I was in my office sitting at my desk and for some reason I started thinking about September 11th.  I began to wonder how I would have responded if I had been pastoring at the time.  Not to exploit my age or anything, but I was in high school when the planes hit the towers; beyond the fact that I lived relatively close to New York City and had friends whose parents commuted into the city to work, those attacks did not affect my day-to-day very much; I did not have to respond.

So there I was, sitting in my office, thinking about that day and the weeks and months that followed and I began to wonder what I would have said; how I would have led my church through a national crisis.  At the time – a few months ago – I had preached following mass shootings and natural disasters, but I had never pastored through anything that would fill chapters of history books.

How quickly things change.

I guess now, for better or for worse, I have the opportunity to find out how I will respond to a national crisis.

I was thinking about this as I was reflecting on this morning’s scripture throughout the week, particularly Paul’s words in verse 11:

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.[1]

How it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.

It is now the moment.

In so many ways, I do believe that now is the moment; now is the moment for me, as a pastor, to practice what I preach, to lean into the Gospel and to be innovative, yet grassroots in my ministry.  Now is the moment for us, as a church, to not be defined by buildings, but by people; to not be confined to buildings, but deployed out into the world to proclaim the Gospel, just like the earliest followers of Christ did.  Now is the moment for us, as a community, to care for one another and to think creatively about how to do the things we need to do.  Now is the moment for all of us to rise up, to believe in the promises of our faith and to overcome the crisis we are facing together.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans; we have been hanging out in this letter for the past couple of weeks.  We know that, while Paul did not found this particular church, that he was familiar with it; that, in this letter, he was responding to reports of division between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, two very different groups of people who were, together, following this new faith.  This particular section first addresses love and then it talks about specific behavioral problems, such as sexual promiscuity, alcohol use and conflicts and jealousy between different groups of people.

Let’s start with the first section on love.  In these verses, Paul is referencing Jesus’ words when he talks about the Greatest Commandment, which is kind of an RCC favorite, so let’s recap that first.  In the Gospel, when asked, out of all of the commandments, what is the greatest, Jesus responds by saying we should love the Lord, our God, with all of our heart, our mind and our soul and we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

In other words:  Love God.  Love people.

Paul reiterates Jesus’ message in his words here.  He talks about the ten commandments, almost reminding the Romans that there are rules that they need to live by, but that they can be summed up in love; that love is the fulfillment of these laws.

These words are super relevant right now, because the words needs love.  The world needs to be reminded that behind every divisive issue, scary circumstance and impossible scenario are people who can, like our church sign has said since March, love one another through this.

And we can.

And we will.

It is funny that I was so drawn to verse 11 and Paul’s words, “how it is now the moment,” because Paul was not actually talking about how to live through and pastor through a pandemic; he was talking about societal behavioral problems, including sexual promiscuity, alcohol use and conflicts and jealousy, which are not really the same thing.

HOWEVER – I do actually see some strange parallels to one another.  What Paul is saying here is that we should live for Christ and not for our own flesh.  Verse 14 – the last verse in this passage – says:

Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.[2]

In other words, the things that our bodies are naturally drawn to, the traps that we cannot quite help but fall into – which Paul names as reveling, drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarrelling and jealousy – are the things we have to fight like heck to push aside so that we can live into Christ.

So that we can, as Paul writes, “put on the armor of light.”  So we can share the Good News and help others to know God.  So we can respond to the trials and tribulations that life often throws at us and lean into our faith instead of running away from it.  So we can journey through a global pandemic – a national crisis unlike any we have ever seen before in our lifetime – and one day look back and be proud of how we responded.

Proud of the ways we stepped up to help the least of these.

Proud of the ways we complied with recommendations even when we did not want to.

Proud of the ways we made the best of bad situations and tried to help others do the same.

Proud of the ways we remembered and clung to the promises of scripture; to the hope that we were created for a moment just like this.

Paul’s words here, in this section, are also super relevant right now, because I think people are pretty much ready to snap.  And I do think that, with the mounting frustration and fear and fatigue comes the tendency to fall into certain traps; to scroll more than we should, to pick fights with other people (particularly in online forums), to rely on unhealthy vices or to make choices that just are not great.

But here Paul reminds us – he encourages us – to resist these traps and to live into Christ.

And I cannot think of a better message for us to hear as we transition into yet another season within this season of covid.

When Paul says that, “it is now the moment,” he is saying this because there was a sense of urgency.  They believe the second coming is imminent and that there is not a lot of time to get it together before it happens.  We, Christians living in this generation, have never really understood this sense of urgency, but I think we do now.

And while I am not saying that this is the end of the world (guys, we will get through this, I promise, science is working as fast as it can on a vaccine – this is not forever, this is just for now, we just do not know how long now is), I am saying that I think over the past six months our perspective has changed.  We do have a sense of urgency – just for different reasons.  But they are real.  And they are challenging us and pushing us right now.

Because we understand suffering and frustration and helplessness on a completely different level.

But here is the question I think we need to ask ourselves – when we come out on the other side of this – whenever that is and whatever it looks like, what do we want people to remember about how we responded? Do we want people to remember that we fell into the traps of our own humanness and picked fights and relied on unhealthy vices?  Or do we want people to remember that we responded with love?

Friends, it is now the moment.

It is now the moment to show the community who we are.

It is now the moment to declare to the world that, despite these crazy times we are living in, love still wins.

It is now the moment to lean into our faith and the hope that is promised to us in scripture.

It is now the moment to help others; to care for the least of these and to put the Gospel into action.

It is now the moment to find commonalities that bring us together so that we can be united and remembered for the ways we put positivity and hope and light into the world during a very scary moment.

So friends, it is now the moment.  I invite you to put on the armor of light, to be honorable to live into Christ; to love one another in a way that will bring the dawn of a new day.

And one day may future generations look back at this time – at our church, our community, our family – and see that when we responded, we proclaimed the Good News.

And that we changed the world for the better.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Romans 13:11, NRSV
[2] Romans 13:14, NRSV

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Hold Fast To What Is Good

Hi friends!

We continue to “do church” during these strange and unprecedented times.  It is fun to put dates ONTO the calendar, instead of just taking them off.  Next week we are going to try a drive-thru communion for the first time and our Missions Committee is working on a drive-thru dinner for mid-September.  During worship today we blessed backpack tags and device stickers (here is the liturgy if you would like to use it in your church!) and will send them out to our kids so they’re ready for the start of school.

We continued where we left off in Romans today – this letter has been such a source of comfort to me lately.  I hope you find comfort in Paul’s words, as well!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 30, 2020

Romans 12:9-21

Hold Fast To What Is Good

Well, it has been a week.

Wildfires moved quickly and fiercely through California.

A category four hurricane decimated the Louisiana coast.

A black man was shot in the back seven times by a white police officer, igniting a new wave of black lives matter protests and demonstrating just how much work we still have to do with racial reconciliation in our country.

The Republican National Convention wrapped up and, following last week’s Democratic National Convention, officially kicked off what we all know is going to be a very volatile and divisive presidential election.

Actor Chadwick Boseman passed away at the age of 43, and indescribable loss to the Hollywood community, both as an actor and as a person.

Schools are trying to re-open. And it’s not easy. And people have lot of thoughts about that.

And this seems so small in the grand scheme of things, but someone impersonated me on Instagram, which was super annoying to have to deal with while I was at the doctor with my daughter for her four-month well visit.

AS AN ASIDE – and I say this not only because of what happened to me on Instagram this week, but also because I have had several clergy friends who have been impersonated by email and it caused giant messes at their churches – please know that I will never randomly email or direct message you on social media and ask you for money or gift cards. I know this sounds ridiculous, but there are evil people in this world that unfortunately are really good with technology. And they really should use their technological geniuses to make the world a better place instead of trying to scam people, but – alas – here we are. Moral of the story: If something seems not like me, it’s probably not me.

But – that is actually a really good segue into this morning’s scripture reading, from Romans. It begins:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good. (Romans 12:9, NRSV)

So let’s talk about evil (that’s a fun topic for a Sunday morning, right?)

Unfortunately, in a lot of different ways, we have all seen evil unfold over the past several weeks – even months. We are living through an indescribable moment in history, collectively wondering when – and how – this chapter is going to end. Amidst a global health crisis our news is filled with headlines of violence, division and turmoil. It is not a dream, it is not a movie, it is not some scenario we are trying to avoid; it is the reality of the world we are living in right now.

But despite all of this, I think we have also seen a lot of love – a lot of true and tangible and genuine love. We have seen goodness in people, in communities and in organizations. We have seen kindness and compassion come in simple and grassroots, but also very real ways. We have seen love conquer the evil we are facing; we have seen good overcome the bad.

And this scripture reminds us that, in this moment, we have to hold fast to what is good.

That is how we will get through these challenging times, how we will close out this chapter in history we are writing.
Scripture has always kind of fascinated me – for several reasons. First of all, it is so diverse in terms of literature and style, so there is a little something for everybody, no matter what you are going through. Second of all, there is a lot of overlap in stories and timelines, so you know, that even if every single word is not 100% historically accurate, that there is still truth to scripture as a whole.

And finally, scripture has stood the test of time. It has been around a lot longer than we have – thousands of years, in fact. So while we keep saying that we are living in unprecedented times and we have never experienced a pandemic before – scripture has.

Scripture has been through wars and exiles and natural disasters and pandemics.

And it has lived through it.

And it has been a stronghold and a lifeline for people.

In many ways, scripture has never been so real to me. Sure, it has spoken to me at different points throughout my life and, in many ways, captivated me (I studied it for seven years, after all). But there is something about going through a long-term global crisis that makes me better understand the suffering and uncertainty that is talked about in scripture. And it makes me appreciate peoples’ faith in the midst of their struggles – and their hope, their tenacity and their commitment to overcome evil with good.

This morning’s scripture reading comes from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. This is the longest letter Paul ever wrote; it was written to a church that he, himself, did not found, although some scholars believe he did meet some people from the church throughout his travels. Paul had heard reports of quarrels between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians – two very different groups of people united under this one umbrella of Christianity, trying to figure out how to be united when their perspectives on things were so very different.

On multiple levels, this actually sounds very familiar to what we are going through in the United States right now.

This particular passage is sort of a rulebook about what it means to be Christian. I read it described this week as, “A staccato series of imperatives for all Christians, drawing on the wisdom tradition and focusing on social relations.” (The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, With The Apocraphal/Deuterocanonical Books. San Francisco, Calif. : HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.) In other words, it is a somewhat straightforward (but also in many ways challenging) list of what it means to live out your faith in Christ. Some of these rules seem obvious – some seem like a challenge – some seem downright impossible.

Paul is not saying that it is going to be easy; in fact, I think he knows just how difficult what he is asking us to do is. But he leaves us with this charge of what we have the capacity to do. The final verse of this passage says:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.(Romans 12:21, NRSV)

In other words, if we do these things – if we follow these rules and commandments and challenges – we can put goodness into this world.

Goodness that will overcome evil.

Goodness that will bring the Gospel to life.

Goodness that will help us close out this chapter.

Goodness that will change the world for the better.

The thing about this portion of Paul’s letter is that he names evil; he talks about suffering and persecution and sorrow; he says that we will have enemies. He is saying that everything we are experiencing in our lives right now – the realities of this year – a public health crisis, impossible solutions to childcare and education, systemic racism, harsh political division, family members and friends duking it out in the comment section on Facebook (to name a few) – is part of life. It is not a pleasant part of life, but it is a part of life.

And Paul is not saying that Christianity is going to take all of these things away. What he is saying, however, is that, as Christians, we can be active participants in overcoming these things in our lives.

We can be the change that will shine light into the darkness of this moment.

We can be the voice of reconciliation that is so desperately need throughout our country.

We can be the good that will overcome evil.

And none of this is easy, especially not when the world is falling apart and tensions are running high.

But I really do believe that, as Christians, we can rise up. We can overcome evil with good and bless the people who disagree with us and persecute us. We can help others, we can love one another and we can practice hospitality.

And I believe this because it has happened before. Because scripture tells us – it shows us – that people of faith have walked through fire before and come out stronger on the other side. Scripture shows us that nothing – not even death itself – stops God from intervening and redeeming a situation.

Paul is not naively saying these words and commissioning the Roman Church to just Pollyanna a tough situation. Paul knows how hard this is going to be. His own story was not easy – he experienced suffering and persecution. He knows the gravity of what he is asking the Romans to do – and he believes they can do it.

And so when I say these things to you – when I say we can be the change, when I say we can be the voice of reconciliation, when I say we can be the good – I say them knowing that, while it might seem impossible, it has been done before and we can rise up and do it again today.

So let your love be true. Resist what is evil. Hold onto – and lift up – the good things around you. Love God and love one another. Celebrate every little tiny bit of hope you see and experience. Help others when you can. Bless your friends and your enemies. Don’t try to always get the last word in. If you are going to engage in debate with someone, do so with love and affection for the person you are talking to. Make sure we are all taking care of one another – making sure we have the basic things that we need.

So let us put kindness and love and compassion and hospitality into the world so that one day we can look back on this time – we can read this crazy chapter we are writing right now – and see that we were not overcome by the evil we faced – but that we overcame that evil with good.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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